(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Intercultural Dialogue as an Integral Part of Peaceful Resolution Strategy in Multiethnic Societies: The Case of Central Asia

Summary of research carried out: 
Intercultural Dialogue as an Integral Part of Peaceful Resolution Strategy in Multiethnic Societies: The Case of Central Asia

There has been a shift in the nature of conflicts from simple bipolar ideological divisions to a more complex web of interethnic, intercultural and identity conflicts, intolerance and discrimination. In view of this challenge there is an urgent need for a new multidisciplinary peaceful conflict resolution framework.

This project attempted to prove that intercultural dialogue is an indispensable, integral tenet of the new peaceful conflict resolution/prevention strategy in multiethnic societies. In this regard, the project analyzed intercultural dialogue in the context of Central Asia (CA) – typical example of a region in a transitional stage, under the threat of interethnic, identity and resource conflicts. Origins of potential conflicts in the Central Asia that this project has dealt with include: - Multiple identities of Central Asia states and peoples combined with economic underdevelopment; - Geographical position of these states at the crossroads of different cultures and religions (Islam, Buddhism and Christianity), and the rise of Islamic radicalism and intolerance in recent years, exemplified by the brutality and intolerance of the Afghan movement of the Taliban, etc.; -Close interconnection between regional environmental and security problems: water, as a source of conflict and competition among states for natural resources, etc.; and - Present unresolved territorial and border disputes among Central Asia states.

The message of this project is very clear. In the first part, the project suggested that it is more efficient to invest developing capacities of Central Asia states to avoid the initial outbreak of tensions and conflicts through promoting intercultural dialogue in and among Central Asia (diverse ethnic, religious or cultural) communities, than to deal with those conflicts once they arise.

Therefore, peace and tolerance education in Central Asia states through inter-cultural dialogue offers them a mechanism to handle ethnic, cultural and religious differences in their societies through peaceful means rather than through armed dispute settlement. Following this logic, the project suggested that lasting peace cannot be achieved/maintained just through unilateral (e.g. military, political) solutions to CA dilemmas, but should be accompanied or led through, often underestimated, means of civil society education, strengthening democratic institutions and cultural pluralism. The second part analysed conflicts in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, from which it is obvious that Central Asia (ethnic/cultural) communities often wrongfully view their interests as contradicting one another. Their thinking is often along the lines of a zero-sum game, assuming that when one side wins, the other must lose. Therefore, in Afghan and to a lesser extent in Tajik context, the success of a certain ethnic group or cultural community is often thought of as damaging the prospects of other communities. In this regard, this project proved that the better economically developed and structurally sound each of the separate ethnic/cultural communities is, the stronger the prospects for overall economic development and stability become. In other words, the interests of various groups can be both consistent and compatible. The prosperity of each group strongly depends on the achievements of its neighboring communities and each can benefit from the success of its neighbours.